Mobile apps are designed to improve our lives and provide us with readily available information. This is especially helpful while travelling. Hundreds of new apps are popping up left, right, and centre, so we connected with our fellow overlanders to help narrow down the search.
Google Maps, iOverlander, and Maps.me were crowd favorites, and nearly every overlander we connected with listed at least one of these as their go-to app. And for good reason. All of these apps are free and most can be accessed offline—a win for the typical overlander on a tight budget who requires navigation support in remote areas. Each app has its own unique features, so we’ll dive into why these apps (and many more) are such a hit. Grab a cup of joe and a cozy seat and we’ll get right to it.
Ernesto and Taisa from Overland the Americas, Kirk from Impact Overland, Leigh and Steph of GrizzlyNBear, Dan and Marlene of MaliMish, and Dan Grec of The Road Chose Me all list this app as one of their favourites.
Dan Grec likes Maps.me because the detailed maps are handy for both walking and driving.
We also used this app extensively during our travels through South America, both for turn-by-turn navigation and for planning. I dropped colour-coded category-specific pins at many different locations (campsites, restaurants, markets, activities, trailheads, etc.), which made for straightforward route planning.
Photo courtesy of Maps.me
Leigh and Steph of GrizzlyNBear state that Maps.me is the app they use most frequently. It is their primary tool for on-road, off-road, and hiking navigation. “We’ve been to some very remote and isolated areas in the world and we can assure you there is no need to spend lots of money on a fancy navigation system.” Agreed.
All maps can be downloaded and are available offline without an internet connection. The following video from GrizzlyNBear outlines the pros and cons of the app and how to use it. Leigh and Steph also dive into why they also use OSMand and Mapy.cz for navigation, so be sure to check that out as well.
[Embed link: https://youtu.be/S1jHTdLY-ek]
Toby and Chloe Conroy of Carpe Viam noted that Google Maps is their favourite app for discovering tracks and camp spots that are off-the-beaten-track and rarely found on other apps.
Ernesto and Taisa from Overland the Americas also listed Google Maps as one of their go-to apps for navigation.
This is the app I used to prepare for our Women Overlanding the World retreats trips. The app allowed me to drop colour-coded location pins for restaurants, camp spots, waterfalls, hospitals, and the like. We also used Google Maps for turn-by-turn navigation in Costa Rica and could share the map link so that all four guides could navigate independently. The app worked really well in cases where our schedule was very structured and we were returning to specific spots multiple times per year. I find the driving time estimates provided by Google Maps to be far more accurate than Maps.me.
Photo credit: Richard Giordano
iOverlander is an app made for overlanders by overlanders. The extensive database of campsites, fuel stations, and mechanic shops is all within easy reach of your dominant thumb.
We chatted with Jazmyn and Crystal of the Vanwives and they pointed to iOverlander as their favourite app, hands down. The girls like that they can use the features offline with helpful filters such as water fill-up locations, propane sources, mechanics, fuel stations, laundromats, and pet services (especially helpful since they travel with their two Australian Shepherd dogs). The app also provides the duo with a sense of community and safety. “iOverlander has taken us to unbelievably beautiful wild camp spots and even stopped us from taking the ‘wrong’ turn.”
Photo credit: Vanwives
Thanks to diligent input from fellow travellers, you can download the app and leave on a trip immediately with almost zero planning. But even if you’re a meticulous planner, something will inherently go sideways on the road. A campsite will be closed, local roadblocks will force a backtrack, or a mechanical breakdown will require a last-minute detour. iOverlander is invaluable at times like these.
However, we have driven past more than a few iOverlander camp spots that were nothing more than a haunted (we can only assume) cemetery or an abandoned gas station. Don’t blindly follow the app’s suggested camp spots. Read the reviews, swipe through the photos, and make an educated decision for yourself.
Those special and well-travelled spots have become even more popular as overlanders flock towards the highly rated sites. This makes for fantastic hubs for meeting people on the road, sharing stories, and exchanging information. It is important, however, to sometimes give in to spontaneity. Straying off the beaten path to find your own wild camp spots is part of the adventure.
Photo credit: Impact Overland
The Expedition Portal team also reviewed OnX for mapping in North America, which shows popular routes, land ownership and status, along with useful mapping tools. onxmaps.com
When desperate for showers or laundry (or WiFi), Dan and Marlene of MaliMish use AirBnB. “Booking a small place for a night can be cheaper than paying for showers at a campground or laundry at the laundromat. Use the place for a few hours and then head back to your camper clean and refreshed.”
Dan and Marlene of MaliMish also use park4night to find stops in Europe. This app has a large user database with helpful reviews. The couple uses the paid version as it allows offline usage, which is important when cell service drops off in more remote areas.
Photo Credit: MaliMish
Carpe Viam, GrizzlyNBear, and MaliMish all use Google Translate. MaliMish finds this app especially helpful when crossing through multiple borders and countries. Users can also download languages for offline use. The best part is that it’s a tool that lessens language barriers and gives travellers the confidence to strike up a conversation with locals. Marlene of MaliMish agrees. “Google Translate allows us to communicate with others that we otherwise couldn’t have.”
Google Translate is another go-to app that we used on our Women Overlanding the World trips in Costa Rica. The camera feature is terrific, especially for translating things like signs, menus, grocery store items, etc. Toby of Carpe Viam notes, “I really like their camera feature when dealing with paperwork above my pay grade.”
Taisa of Overland the Americas found Duolingo very helpful (repetition is key) for learning Portuguese during the couple’s time in Brazil.
Indeed, we’ve used this app ourselves to help brush up on our Spanish and learn the basics of new languages. I would throw in Memrise as another language app that has proven useful for us.
Taisa from Overland the Americas recommends the easy-to-use Trail Wallet for tracking expenses. The app offers customizable categories, real-time conversions, and helpful graphs. The data is also exportable into Excel. Trail Wallet’s price tag is $8, but the couple felt this small fee was well worth it. Another popular option for tracking monthly spending is MoneyManager, recommended by Dan and Marlene of MaliMish.
For banking-related tasks, MaliMish uses the Transferwise app, which they link to their US bank account, allowing for international money transfers. To deposit money online, Dan and Marlene use the Revolut app. This app is linked to a debit card that works internationally.
Toby and Chloe of Carpe Viam use the PayPal and Gas Buddy apps. Gas Buddy is a community-based fuel app that helps users locate the nearest and cheapest fuel, searching gas stations by distance or price and reporting current fuel prices. Note that the app is only available for the US, Canada, and Australia.
Coen and Karin-Marijke of Landcruising Adventure recommend Road Trip MPG for mileage and fuel economy tracking and for reminders when regular vehicle maintenance is due. The app also tracks your maintenance history and provides a service and repair log.
Leigh and Steph of GrizzlyNBear and Coen and Karin-Marijke of Landcruising Adventure both listed XE Currency as one of their favourite apps. Users can monitor up to 10 currencies, and once updated online, the app saves the last conversion rates.
Photo Credit: Coen Wubbels
Leigh and Steph of GrizzlyNBear have some great recommendations for easing paperwork hassles during travel. The couple uses the Photo Resizer app to crop, shrink, or resize images while adhering to exact pixel requirements and keeping the best image quality. Leigh finds the app useful for e-visa applications where you are required to upload a photo of your passport while complying with a specific resolution size.
GrizzlyNBear also use the Simple Scanner app, a PDF document scanner application that allows users to scan documents, photos, receipts, and reports. Leigh and Steph like this app as it transforms any photo, giving the illusion of being run through a scanner or fax machine.
Another option is the SignEasy app, which both GrizzlyNBear and Toby and Chloe of Carpe Viam use to transform signed documents into PDFs. Leigh likes that the app keeps an original version of your signature on file. “You can then enter it into the document that requires a signature, preventing you from having to print, sign, and scan documents.”
GrizzlyNBear and Overland the Americas both recommend the Windy app. Ernesto from Overland the Americas rates it as “the coolest app out there” due to its unique interface and real-time updates on wind speeds, lightning storms, and other adverse weather events.
We used Windy on our recent trip to Tuktoyaktuk to tackle the infamously stormy Richardson Mountain Pass in the Northwest Territories. The app was very useful when we wanted to avoid frequent road closures caused by weather and wind.
Photo courtesy of Windy
AccuWeather is another strong contender. In Carpe Viam’s experience, this app provides the best weather forecast with radar and hourly updates. In addition to Windy, GrizzlyNBear also use AccuWeather to monitor the seven-day forecast in their current location as well as at their next scheduled destination.
Photo Credit: Ernesto López Pérez
THE FUN STUFF – MISCELLANEOUS
A fantastic recommendation by Coen and Karin-Marijke of Landcruising Adventure, the Vivino app allows users to search an extensive database by taking a photo of wine labels or restaurant wine lists for detailed information. Users can search the vino database by ratings (which are community generated), reviews, average price, and by food pairings, so there is no need to agonize over how you will transform the contents of a crappy bottle into a meal, a glass of fruity sangria, or a cup of spicy mulled wine.
Photo Credit: Richard Giordano
This is the primary app that MaliMish uses to identify the flora and fauna around them. It allows the user to take photos, scroll through suggestions for proper identification, record observations, and share and discuss findings with other users. As a self-proclaimed plant nerd with a background in herbal medicine, I love this app.
Travelling with family members or want to keep an eye on your vehicle while you’re grabbing some groceries or a bite to eat? Dan and Marlene of MaliMish use the Life360 app, which is a real-time GPS tracker both for their family members and for their van. “We leave a spare phone in our vehicle and it allows us to check on its location while we’re out and about.”
Love nighttime photography? Kirk Williams of Impact Overland uses this app to plan photo layouts based on the location of the sun, moon, and Milky Way each night. Kirk notes, “This app is amazing for a visual representation of what the night sky will look like. You can frame beforehand accordingly.” PhotoPills allows users to imagine where they want the sun, moon, and Milky Way to show up in the photo, calculate the date and time it all comes together, and live capture those epic moments.
Photo courtesy of Photo Pills
Many adventures aren’t possible at the moment. However, now is the perfect time to learn more about everything. My best advice is to use a variety of these apps on weekend or short trips to determine which work best for you. Have I missed any? Of course, we have. Tell us about your absolute favourite apps below and make note of which features you can’t live without.
Read more about the adventurous overlanders featured in this article:
Ashley Giordano completed a 48,800-kilometer-overland journey from Canada to Argentina with her husband, Richard, in their well-loved but antiquated Toyota pickup. On the zig-zag route south, she hiked craggy peaks in the Andes, discovered diverse cultures in 15 different countries, and filled her tummy with spicy ceviche, Baja fish tacos, and Argentinian Malbec. You can usually find Ashley buried in a pile of travel books, poring over maps, or researching wild medicinal plants. Ashley is a co-founder of Women Overlanding the World and crew member of Expedition Overland. You’ll find this Canadian-born couple exploring a different continent in 2021, and sharing their trip every step of the way at Desk to Glory.